Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Holiday Decorations Pose Threats to Pets

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Holiday Decorations Pose Threats to Pets

Article excerpt

Winter holidays will be neither merry nor happy if dogs and cats get sick from the live Christmas trees, holiday plants, garlands and ornaments that deck our halls.

I'm sure no one means to be the Grinch who steals Christmas, but the annual holiday warning news releases are flooding my email box. Veterinarians and other experts are highlighting dangers that have never occurred to me, such as this one from the American Kennel Club:

"Avoid using foods such as popcorn or cranberry strands as decorations. If eaten they can cause blockages. which can require surgery to remove."

On the other hand, at least one plant is not as bad as you might think:

The poinsettia "has an unnecessarily bad reputation for toxicity," writes Patrick Mahaney, a Los Angeles-area veterinarian and certified veterinary accupuncturist. He said the "ubiquitous holiday decoration is frequently ingested by our pets. ... Fortunately toxicology studies do not confirm the public's perception of the poinsettia's exceedingly harmful effects."

Poinsettias do contain a "latex-like sap" that can irritate the mouth and cause vomiting, he wrote in the HealthE Barks publication of the AKC Canine Health Foundation.

Mistletoe is a bigger threat to both dogs and cats. Multiple toxins in the leaves and berries can cause "severe gastrointestinal, cardiovascular (low blood pressure, low heart rate) and neurologic signs, unusual behavior or even collapse," Mr. Mahaney said.

Another area of concern is live trees - including those smaller Norfolk Island pines that many people keep as year-round houseplants.

"The toxic mechanism is unknown," Mr. Mahaney said, but "ingestion of pine needles can cause gastrointestinal signs and lethargy. Even more potentially toxic is the water which nourishes our trees. The standing water can harbor bacteria, molds or other agents (fertilizers) that can cause your pet to become extremely sick with only a few sips."

Christmas cactus, amaryllis and holly can also cause problems, and here are the symptoms to look for in dogs and cats - vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, lethargy or tremors.

The best way to prevent these problems is to keep all of these plants out of your house, Mr. Mahaney suggests.

Or, you could put a gate around the Christmas tree, suggests a separate news release from another branch of the AKC. Ornaments and tinsel that might be eaten by pets should be put only on higher branches that they can't reach.

Holiday foods, including chocolate, turkey skin and foods rich in fat, can make pets really sick, too. Keep these numbers handy so you can call for help, the sooner the better:

Start with the Pittsburgh Poison Control Center 1-800-222-1222. It has free advice for children, adults and pets. If staffers can't help, they may advise you to call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, 1-888-426-4435. …

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